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What is Civic Innovation? Four Strategies for Contributing to a More Equitable Society

During an ILSI Impact presentation, a group of Atlanta changemakers discussed what civic innovation is and how to organize for social change.

During an ILSI Impact presentation, a group of Atlanta changemakers discussed what civic innovation is and how to organize for social change.

Civic innovation. It’s a concept that is gaining increased relevance as our society recognizes the fact that all citizens can and should be empowered to be problem solvers. Civic innovation elevates community-driven ideas and solutions to address inequality and build trust in the public sector. And it’s a mindset each of us can engage in.   

The Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business Institute for Leadership and Social Impact (ILSI), in collaborations with the Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain (SLS) and the Georgia Social Impact Collaborative (GSIC) recently hosted a conversation as part of the fall 2020 Impact Series with a group of Atlanta's game-changing civic entrepreneurs. This fall’s Impact series talks focus on conversations about race, social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion. The panel included Sagdrina Jalal, Senior Director of Programs at CCI; Akissi Stokes, Founder of WunderGrubs; Rachel Willis of Elevating Equity; and Mamie Harper of Carrie's Closet. These entrepreneurs are Center for Civic Innovation (CCI) Fellows, working on local issues to create a more just and equitable Atlanta for all. 

In the virtual discussion, the panelists, along with moderator Dr. Ruthie Yow, Service Learning and Partnerships Specialist for the Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain, discussed ways to support greater justice and organize for social change. They also discussed the impact each of their individual organizations are making on the Atlanta community.

Through the discussion, the panelists pointed out four important actions you can take to change culture and contribute to a more equitable community.

Ask yourself: “What do I notice?”
Willis of Elevating Equity explained how someone might begin their journey as a civic innovator. Elevating Equity creates spaces for educators and community members to examine race and ensure every child receives an equitable education. 

“In terms of getting involved in this work, one of the biggest things is starting locally,” said Willis. “What are your parents taking about? What are your aunts and your sisters saying that you need to check them for? We start locally, but we are also conscious and aware in the settings where we work, the organizations that we interact with. What do I notice, what do I wonder, and what do I need to do about it?”

Start with you.
Jalal of the CCI encourages those who want to embody and affect change in the spaces they occupy to start with themselves. The mission of the CCI is to elevate more effective solutions that improve equality and build trust in the public sector. Before focusing on what you can do, you can start by looking internally and at what is happening in your community.

“Be involved,” said Jalal. “National politics are important, but what is happening in your community? I encourage folks to look at their behavior and their politics and actions before they look outward.”

She encourages everyone to start with themselves by asking questions about what is happening in their community: What is the leadership like in your community? What is happening at your neighborhood association? What is the development that is taking place? What are the policies and procedures that are impacting people in your space that you don’t even know exist? Who are those powerful people?

Have the conversations.
Stokes of Wondergrubs emphasized the importance of healthy civic discourse. 

“It’s okay to have healthy discourse. Not only are we teaching children that, but adults need to be comfortable just having a conversation,” said Stokes. “We don’t have to agree about everything, but we can agree to be civil and have a conversation. It may not take one conversation. It may not take one month. It may take a couple of years before something hits or triggers for someone. Let that be okay. Continue with your mission.”

Wundergrubs aims to grow food that does not erode our soil, contaminate our groundwater or emit emissions. Instead, they aim to introduce a new food system that connects farms and communities to an alternative protein that regenerates our environment, more healthily feeds animals, boosts economies, and feeds more people, responsibly.

Demystify what social justice looks like. 
Harper of Carrie’s Closet of Georgia urges people to have courageous conversations and to show up for causes that will enforce change. Carrie’s Closet of Georgia’s mission is to clothe and impact the lives of Georgia's most vulnerable and at-risk children through service and advocacy.

 “For me, I always learn that service is free,” Harper said. “We need to demystify what social justice looks like. You don’t have to be on Capitol Hill. You don’t have to have a PhD. We need to quit making advocacy a type of prestigious being. You can simply serve at the soup kitchen. You can lean into those organizations that need your help and actually do the work.”

Harper also encourages those that are already serving to look introspectively and ask questions around whether or not they can serve differently. Is there a different city or demographic that you can service with your mission? She says, “You don’t necessarily have to make the social change and systems work…Can you serve differently, so that you are still creating the impact that is desired for continual change?”

See more upcoming Fall 2020 Dean’s D&I/Impact Speaker Series events.

You can also watch the full discussion in the video below.

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